Openreach welcomes First Minister’s support for key workers

Industry leader calls for abuse of telecom engineers to stop

Openreach has welcomed support for its key workers from the Scottish Government after Nicola Sturgeon highlighted the contribution of engineers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

During today’s COVID-19 briefing, the First Minister thanked telecom workers for their role in keeping the country connected as people continue to work and learn from home.

She said that fact that people were being forced to stay physically distant from each other had made many more reliant than ever on technology and the contribution of those keeping the phone and broadband networks going at this time was so important to our everyday lives.

Openreach is the UK’s largest phone and broadband network – used by customers of BT, Sky, Plusnet, TalkTalk and many more - and plays a leading role in connecting Scotland’s essential public services including GP surgeries, pharmacies, emergency services, and food distribution outlets.

Usage across Openreach’s Scottish network increased by 58 per cent in the last week compared to before lockdown, with nearly 90 Petabytes* of data consumed compared to 57 Petabytes in a typical week before the restrictions came into effect.

While the increase is mainly during daytime hours as more people are working from home and home schooling, last week also saw spikes believed to be related to gaming patches from Fortnite and Call of Duty.

The company has recently seen an increase in incidents across the UK – including a small number in central Scotland – involving engineers being subjected to verbal abuse and intimidation linked to a bogus 5G theory. A possible link is also being considered by police investigating arson attacks on the network in Glasgow at the end of April.

Across the UK Openreach saw more such incidents in April than in the whole of 2019, with the majority relating to theories circulating on social media channels that 5G is responsible for the coronavirus crisis. Mobile phone masts have also been targeted in arson attacks as conspiracists claim the electromagnetic waves of the network have somehow induced the pandemic.

Brendan Dick, chair of the Openreach board in Scotland, said: “Our engineers are doing everything they can do safely to keep Scotland connected during this crisis. The supportive words from the First Minister today help to explain to people why they’re visible on our streets.

“We’ve had a handful of cases in central Scotland where our engineers have been subject to verbal abuse and threats from members of the public, but even one is too many. It’s not only deeply concerning but totally misjudged.

“Our engineers are playing a vital role in connecting crucial public services, vulnerable customers and millions of friends, families and businesses. As designated key workers, they’re primarily focused on the build, repair and maintenance of connections that support critical national infrastructure.

“This work includes NHS Scotland, where our engineers have been installing and upgrading phone and broadband services in support of staff, surgeries and hospitals, including the new NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow.

“We’re also carrying out work to boost broadband speeds and build new fibre network where it can be done safely out in the street – as reliable connectivity is not just essential now, but will be vital to support the Scottish economy as we enter recovery mode.”

Openreach engineers receive guidance and support in how to respond to any threats by members of the public where they feel unsafe and all incidents are reported to both an internal security team and police if necessary.

Engineers aren’t currently entering customers’ homes unless there is a vulnerable customer without service.

For more information about Openreach’s key worker status for engineers, and to find out more information about its response to the Coronavirus situation, visit www.openreach.co.uk


*A Petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes or 1,000,000 gigabytes